Deforestation: concepts, scope and challenges to reverse it

Deforestation: concepts, scope and challenges to reverse it

According to Smith and Schwartz (2015) deforestation is the conversion of forests to another type of land use or the significant long-term reduction of forest cover. This includes the conversion of natural forest to tree plantations, agriculture, rangelands, water reserves, and urban areas. FAO (2012) clarifies that deforestation implies the permanent loss of forest cover and implies the transformation into another land use. Deforestation can be caused by humans or nature.

It is clarified that logging in areas in forests managed through natural regeneration or with the help of silvicultural measures does not constitute deforestation (Smith and Schwartz, 2015). Logging is legal when it is subject to forest management plans controlled by the forest authorities and it is illegal when it is extracted from unregulated areas (for the purpose of logging, planting crops, or for illegal drug trafficking and mining activities). This means that a selective felling of trees can go on to a process of deforestation. It is also important to note that logging in private forest plantations simply refers to forest harvesting actions.

On the other hand, we speak of forest degradation when changes within forests affect the structure or function of the area or place over several decades, and therefore reduce the forest's capacity to provide ecosystem products and / or services (for example carbon stocks other forest values) (Smith and Schwartz, 2015). For their part, Müller et al., (2014) understand degradation as a permanent loss of biomass in the forest without it ceasing to be a forest. It is noted that there are difficulties in measuring forest degradation.

A concept that deserves to be clarified refers to deforestation. The deforestation and the authorization to change the current use of the land refer to administrative acts of authorization for the removal of forest cover. According to the Forestry and Wildlife Law No. 29763, clearing consists of the removal of the forest cover by any method that entails the loss of the natural state of the forest resource, in areas included in any category of the national forest heritage, for the development of productive activities that do not have sustainable forest management as their purpose, such as the installation of infrastructure, the opening of communication routes, including access roads to forest production areas, the production or transport of energy, as well as energy, hydrocarbon and mining. Clearing requires prior authorization from SERFOR or the corresponding regional forest and wildlife authority, according to the level of environmental assessment required in each case, as provided in the National System for Environmental Impact Assessment and in accordance with what is established in the regulations of this Law (Article 36. Authorization of deforestation).

Likewise, the Forestry and Wild Fauna Law No. 29763 indicates that in lands with a greater capacity for forest use and a greater capacity for use for protection, with or without vegetation cover, the change of current use to agricultural purposes is prohibited. The granting of property titles, certificates or certificates of possession in lands of public domain with capacity for greater forest use or protection with or without forest cover is prohibited, as well as any type of recognition or installation of public service infrastructure, under responsibility of the officials involved (Article 37. Prohibition of change of current use of lands of capacity of greater forest use and protection).

Impacts of deforestation

Deforestation is the major activity that causes greenhouse gas emissions, due to this activity large areas of tree biomass are lost, which endangers the accompanying biodiversity, not only due to the loss of arboreal individuals but also due to the loss of refuges for wildlife and forest environmental services (Ministry of the Environment - MINAM, 2009: 9). But it not only has to do with biophysical aspects but with the well-being of society, as deforestation affects the security of water, energy, food, health, climate, and livelihoods (Rautner et al., 2013). For this reason, we can affirm that the impacts of deforestation refer to practically all of the Sustainable Development Goals.

On the other hand, the burning of forests contributes with gases to the greenhouse effect. Transforming the cover of tropical forests by mainly grass vegetation causes, on a continental scale, a significant increase in surface temperature and a decrease in evaporation and precipitation. The decrease in biomass would increase the amount of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere and thus contribute to global warming (OSINFOR, 2016: 9).

Agents and causes of deforestation

To understand the dynamics of deforestation, it is important to know the agents and causes that lead to forest loss. The agents are economic actors, be they natural persons, companies or communities, whose activity, developed under unsustainable practices, generates a change in land use and the total or partial loss of forest in a given area, either due to the development of legal activities. or illegal. The causes refer to a complex set of actions, factors and reasons in the deforestation of forests (Ministry of the Environment, 2016: 33).

The main direct causes of deforestation in Peru

90% of deforestation occurs due to the opening of areas smaller than one hectare and the main direct drivers of deforestation are agriculture and livestock. Other direct causes are mining, particularly illegal mining in Madre de Dios and illicit and illegal crops such as coca. In addition, there is deforestation due to infrastructure projects such as hydroelectric plants, the exploitation of hydrocarbons, poor timber extraction practices and illegal logging (Global Green Institute and die, 2015: 14).

The main indirect causes of deforestation in Peru

Indirect causes are also known as underlying causes. Rautner et al., (2013) point out that the underlying causes of deforestation have to do with population growth and demand for commodities, governance, climate change, poverty, infrastructure, and finance.

Among the most significant indirect causes, especially in an environment of governance that has not yet been strengthened in the country, is the construction of infrastructure (Roads and river access routes are the main indirect causes of deforestation, and they explain more than 60% of loss of forest area), lack of clarity of land tenure; the demand of both national and international markets for agricultural products such as oil palm, meat, coffee, etc .; the high migration from the mountains to the Amazon; and in general, the existence and establishment of institutional, legal and financial incentives that originate the change of forest cover to other uses, especially agriculture (Global Green Institute and die, 2015: 16).

Rautner et al. (2013) recognize three types of deforestation catalysts: i) supply chain, ii) financial, and iii) regulatory.

The root causes of deforestation

The direct and indirect causes of deforestation are explained by the separation we have made from society and forests. In this way we have reified the forests and we have removed all signs of spirituality and sacredness (Rodríguez, 2002). As things subject to exploitation without feelings of remorse of any kind. In this way, a rationalist, objectivist and simplifying worldview of forests has met with an economistic vision that treats forests as a source of resources and economic growth. In this process need and greed intersect and end up significantly accelerating the processes of loss of forest cover.

It means then that the deep causes of deforestation are based on epistemological, economic and political dimensions that make the conversion of forests appear as signs of conquest and civilization of forests. The civilizing model reinforces the distance between human beings and forests through its institutions, laws, paradigms, discourses, and narratives. It is then that corruption finds a fertile path that finally affects the loss of forest cover.

But beyond the great economic powers that ultimately sustain deforestation, poverty also intervenes in the process. Either because sustainable income opportunities were not generated in other fields, because options were not developed in a timely manner so that forest-dependent peoples find opportunities for a dignified life based on the goods and services of forest biodiversity, or because the institutional and legal structures They did not sensitively pick up the unique socio-cultural characteristics of these settlers, the fact is that deforestation continues to advance alarmingly.

This means that deforestation cannot be attacked only from a punitive perspective to poor people who have no alternatives. It is the economic models and political frameworks that ultimately force the deforestation wave to continue. Therefore, deforestation can be recognized as a complex problem and therefore can be approached from a complex adaptive systems perspective.

Proposals to reverse deforestation

Global Green Institute and die (2015: 38) consider that to reverse deforestation the Peruvian Government will have to invest both in “command and control” and in incentives for sustainable land use to effectively reduce deforestation. The State has to ensure that its environmental laws are complied with, but at the same time generate economic opportunities for local populations and the country's economy. Among the incentives are: i) Incentives for sustainable practices in agricultural activity, the main driver of deforestation to avoid changes in land use, ii) Financial incentives such as access to agricultural credits conditioned on compliance with environmental laws and environmental improvements , iii) Incentives for the sustainable use of forest lands for the use of timber and non-timber products and other ecosystem services of the standing forest, and iv) Design of mechanisms that incentivize options for the sustainable management of forest resources for the different actors (Global Green Institute and die, 2015: 34-36).

From a complex adaptive systems approach, it is necessary to recognize a forest approach as socio-ecosystems. This gives rise to views such as the management of sustainable forest landscapes that advocates the dialogue between production, conservation, urban planning, infrastructure and energy, but in a perspective of reunion between the forest and society. This reunion is not only rational but deeply emotional and spiritual, recognizing the ethics of mutual care.

It means, therefore, to wisely manage all matter / mass, energy, information and meaning. This means recognizing that all the tangible and intangible elements of the forest socio-ecosystem are interrelated, interdependent and interdefinable. It implies promoting intercultural dialogue to define economic limits based on ecological capacities and not superimpose economic interests over social and environmental considerations. This means in good account to recognize the multiple dimensions, the multiple scales and the multiple temporalities.

From a perspective of territorial and landscape management, it is not only about taking into account the multiple agents and their diversity, but also having the ability to combine physical geography, human geography and space. This means assessing in its real dimension the power of the technical-political tools of land use planning, ecological and economic zoning, forest zoning, agro-ecological zoning, ethnic zoning, among others. This requires an institutional framework and good governance capable of making decisions recognizing the plurality of interests and worldviews in terms of sustainability. The application of (eco) systemic approaches requires an institutional framework that largely surpasses sectoral, disciplinary and functions and competencies visions that do not allow much more strategic and sustainability views.

Prudently managing our relationship of coexistence with forests also implies knowing how to recognize the biotic potential and all the negentropic energy of life. It is not a question, as the integral farms used to propose, only to complement the agricultural production systems with small trees, but on the contrary, from the forest to generate opportunities for coexistence with productive activities. All of this without affecting the resilience of forests and creating spaces for connectivity that allow ecological processes to remain vital. For example, the perspective of agroforestry beyond the plots offers a promising alternative (Arce, 2018).

For all these reasons, campaigns such as Zero Deforestation promoted by the Confederation of Amazonian Nationalities of Peru (CONAP), the Andean Amazon Network for Agroforestry Action (RAAAF), the Andes Group Agreement for Nature and Sustainable Development deserve the utmost attention and our participation. Socio-political, educational and reflective spaces are required to generate creative and innovative options to tackle deforestation by putting mind, heart, emotion, games, poems, songs, proposals for political and technological action. We are all invited.

* By Rodrigo Arce Rojas

Bibliographic references:

Arce, Rodrigo (2018). Agroforestry systems in sustainable forest landscapes. [Post on blog]. SERVINDI. Recovered from:

FAO (2012). Forest Resources Assessment Program FRA - 2015. Rome: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. Recovered from:

Global Green Institute and die (2015). Interpretation of the dynamics of deforestation in Peru and lessons learned to reduce it. Lima: Global Green Institute and die in cooperation with SERFOR. Retrieved from: -to-reduce-it-1.pdf

Ministry of the Environment / National Forest Conservation Program –PNCB, Ministry of Agriculture and Irrigation / SERFOR, Ministry of Economy and Finance, Ministry of Culture, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, National Center for Strategic Planning, National Service of Protected Natural Areas. 2016. National Strategy on Forests and Climate Change. Lima: Ministry of the Environment / National Program for Forest Conservation –PNCB. Retrieved from:

Ministry of the Environment - MINAM (2009) Deforestation Map of the Peruvian Amazon - 2000. Lima: PROCLIM - Program for Strengthening National Capacities to manage the impact of Climate Change and Air Pollution. Retrieved from:

Müller R. Pacheco P and Montero JC. 2014. The context of deforestation and forest degradation in Bolivia: Causes, actors and institutions. Occasional Papers 100. Bogor, Indonesia: CIFOR. Retrieved from:

Forest Resources and Wildlife Supervision Agency - OSINFOR (2016). Analysis of loss of forest cover in the geographic area of ​​border integration with the countries of Colombia, Brazil and Bolivia, year 2014. Series B N ° 04. Lima: OSINFOR. Retrieved from:

Rautner, M., Leggett, M., Davis, F., 2013. The Little Book of the Biggest Causes of Deforestation, Global Canopy Program: Oxford. Retrieved from:

Rodriguez, Francisco. 2002. The fallen nature. Elements for a critique of the dominant worldview. San José, C.R .: Blue Dog Editions.

Smith, Julian and Schwartz, Jill. (2015). Deforestation in Peru. How indigenous communities, government agencies, non-profit organizations and businesses work together to stop the logging of forests. Lima: WWF. Recovered from:

  • Rodrigo Arce Rojas is a Doctor in Complex Thinking from the Edgar Morin Real World Multiversity in Mexico. His email is: [email protected]

Video: Forest Degradation Mathias Disney. Serious Science (October 2020).